Sponsored by Oregon Business

Farm futures: private equity goes organic

| Print |  Email
Articles - May 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013
0513 FarmFutures 02 
After 4 years of searching, Neal (left) and Karen Wells (center) found a home at Jason Bradford's (right) Corvallis-based Farmland LP location.
// Photo by Eric Näslund

Bradford and Wichner met in 2008 at a peak oil and gas conference, and quickly realized they had similar beliefs about the economy’s debilitating dependence on raw materials, whose price is rising as their scarcity increases.

“I was a small organic vegetable farmer frustrated by lack of access to capital, lack of access to land and lack of the ability to mix and integrate farming practices I thought were important,” 43-year-old Bradford explains. “I needed someone to help me buy a big farm so that I could put all my ideas together.”

At the same time, financial analyst Wichner was a new father searching for ways to truly create a sustainable future. When Bradford explained his goal of trying old-time, small farming methods on a larger piece of land, Wichner grasped the way rotational pasture-based farming might be a growth opportunity. Wichner could also see that the two partners needed to think beyond a single farm.

“Craig looked at the idea and said, ‘You don’t make a one-off, where you are the one precious example. You make it a model and you make it replicable.’”

Farmland’s model is to take time to convert conventional land to certified-organic, pasture-based production in order to get organic’s price premium, and they are counting on tenant farmers — whether sheep, chicken or veggie farmers, or producers of wheat, alfalfa or hay — to be able to pay a percentage of their profit to lease Farmland land.

Farmland’s is also a model where tenant farmers are specialized in their area of production but are long-term renters who will be moved around as the rotational model requires. These farmers, Farmland hopes, will do well because they get the benefit of pastured land where soil fertility is increasing year after year, and where input costs — for fertilizer and chemicals — will be lower. What Farmland farmers won’t have is the crushing overhead of a too-high mortgage, or the problem of trying to access expansion money in today’s hard-to-borrow financial environment.

“If you are a young farmer and want to diversify on 40 or 60 acres,” Bradford says, “the overhead cost on each unit of production ends up being very high. You can only have so many sheep, the cost of equipment for managing those sheep is high, and your intellectual capital — well, how good can you be in sheep while also trying to do chickens, veggies, grains?”

Bradford says this is the reason, along with difficult financing, that the idealized model of diversified and sustainable farms hasn’t spread in the United States.


More Articles

Up on the Roof

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 2010 Vanessa Keitges and several investors purchased Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, a green-roof company. The 13-person firm has a 200% annual growth rate, exports 30% of its product to Canada and received its first infusion of venture capital in 2014 from Yaletown Venture Partners. CEO Keitges, 40, a Southern Oregon native who serves on President Obama’s Export Council, talks about market innovation, scaling small business and why Oregon is falling behind in green-roof construction. 


Straight shooter

Linda Baker
Thursday, October 08, 2015
100815-bradleyBY LINDA BAKER

In an era dominated by self-promotion and marketing speak, John Bradley, CEO of R&H Construction, is a breath of fresh air.


The 10 most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Oregon

The Latest
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
081915-crowdfundingmainBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

One of the hottest new investment trends has proven quite lucrative for some companies.


Mayoral musings

Linda Baker
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
091515-mayors-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be the year of the outsider, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump capturing leads in the polls and the headlines. In Portland, Wheeler vs. Hales is bucking the outlier trend.


Downtime with Jill Nelson

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Live, Work, Play wit the CEO of Ruby Receptionists.


New green wood building product takes off in Oregon

Thursday, September 10, 2015
091115-cltjohnson-thumbBY KIM MOORE

Oregon is set to become a hub of a new type of wooden building design as a southern Oregon timber company becomes the first certified manufacturer of a high-tech wood product, known as cross-laminated timber, or CLT.


100 Best Nonprofits announced

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

1015-nonprofits01Oregon Business magazine has named the seventh annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon. The rankings were revealed Wednesday night during an awards dinner at the Sentinel Hotel in Portland.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02